Taste of the Town - East Ocean Seafood
Savoring Dim Sum on the West End
Photography by Phyllis Christopher
In Southern China’s Guangdong (Canton) province, people frequently gather at teahouses during the period we think of as brunch to socialize or conduct business over small meals. In China this is called going to yum cha—going to tea—because the ordering of tea is the first step of the meal.
Here, however, we use the term dim sum to describe these small meals. Dim sum, literally translated from the Cantonese, means “dot-hearts,” small treats that touch, or delight, the heart.
Dim sum houses have been common in both San Francisco and Oakland’s Chinatowns, but one of the best in the Bay Area is right here in Alameda.
The East Ocean Seafood Restaurant, on Webster Street near the College of Alameda, has been in Alameda for 10 years. Millie Low’s mother and her father’s cousin opened the original East Ocean in Oakland in 1984. When the family moved to Alameda in 1989, they realized that Alameda was blessed with many small local Chinese restaurants, but that it lacked a large white tablecloth Chinese establishment for hosting traditional banquets. When their lease expired, they came to Alameda.
Their dream continues to grow. The restaurant currently can seat 180
people for banquets, but a planned expansion will increase that capacity to 300.
“There’s a lot happening here on Webster Street now,” owner Low says with obvious pride. “It has become a real neighborhood community, and we want to encourage people to come see the changes.”
As the name implies, seafood is a spe-cialty for this Hong Kong style restaurant. Both fresh- and salt-water aquaria hold live fish and shellfish, providing the freshest possible ingredients.
Dim sum is a specialty on weekends, when experienced teahouse patrons can select items from carts pushed through the dining room. If you don’t count yourself among the experienced, don’t despair.
Dim sum is also served at East Ocean every weekday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., ordered more traditionally, from a menu.
Start with tea—tie guan yin (an oolong variety), bo lei (black tea), chrysanthemum, jasmine and guk bo (a combination of bo lei and chrysanthemum) are all options. Chrysanthemum tea is a bit of an acquired taste—the others will be more or less familiar. Etiquette requires that you fill others’ cups before your own, and that you tilt the teapot lid when a refill
It’s also typical to order a dish of noodles to accompany the dim sum. Millie Low points out that East Ocean offers 24 varieties of noodles, and, “We will make something special if we can.” Choices include familiar fried chow mein, and less well-known varieties such as lo mein (like chow mein, but braised and sauced) and chow fun (wide noodles made from rice flour). Try dry beef chow fun, and ask for black bean sauce if you like (dao see naouw yuk chow fun). Low says some of the most popular noodles include braised lo mein with lobster in the shell and crabmeat noodles.
Now, you’re ready to plunge into dim sum. A word of advice—order dessert first. Unless your doctor has forbidden you to eat any eggs at all, get one or two orders of don tot at the start of your meal. Don tot are egg custard tarts, made to order at East Ocean, and they are the perfect end to a dim sum lunch, but they take 20 minutes to prepare, so plan ahead.
You are already familiar with some forms of dim sum—almost everyone has eaten egg rolls, fried won ton or potstickers (kuo teh). These show two of the three methods of cooking dim sum—pan-frying and deep frying; the third (and most often found) is steaming.
Dumplings are common—shiu mye are won ton skins stuffed with minced pork and steamed; har gow are steamed rice wrappers stuffed with shrimp, as are fun gor and sinha fun gor, which differ in shape and filling.
Steamed buns are also popular, and East Ocean features char siu bow, steamed buns filled with Chinese barbecued pork; they are both sweet and savory. A similar bun is available baked, also.
Don’t stop at the familiar, however. Try pan-fried turnip cakes—you’ll be amazed that you actually like turnips this way. Be certain to try the Shanghai pork dumplings, and the deep-fried meat and chive dumplings, too. Sweet sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves and steamed is not actually sweet, but savory and delicious.
The house specialties at East Ocean include fried calamari with spicy salt and stuffed eggplant with chili sauce.
The calamari is hand prepared, dusted with cornstarch and spiced salt and
quickly stir-fried. The restaurant
serves more than 300 pounds a week this way, and they are delicate, non-greasy and fabulous.
The stuffed eggplant has pork and shrimp inside and is wok-seared on both sides, then served with chopped scallions on top. Subtle and spicy, it may change your mind about eggplant.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can try some unfamiliar delicacies, such as braised chicken feet, steamed beef tripe, jellyfish or prawns cooked in their shells.
EAST OCEAN SEAFOOD RESTAURANT. Dim Sum, Chinese. East Ocean is open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day and serves dim sum daily from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. 1713 Webster St., (510) 865-3381. CC$